This week’s featured five: Using InDesign master pages

Published by | Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Recently a member wrote in asking for advice on using master pages in InDesign. Master pages allow you to place recurring items like page numbers, footers, or headers on multiple pages throughout your document automatically. Not only does this save time and energy, but it also gives you a one-stop location for updating a title or graphic globally later on.

InDesign Master page screenshot

An example of an InDesign master page in the Pages panel.

For this week’s featured five free videos, I’ve pulled together five tutorials from five different courses to give you a solid understanding of how to use master pages in different contexts. As a bonus, you’ll gather up some other useful InDesign tips along the way, as each author explains in his own way how to work with this useful feature.

1. Introduction to master pages
If you’ve never created a master page before and you’re new to InDesign, this first video from chapter four of Up and Running with InDesign will get you started without presuming too much prior InDesign knowledge. Author Deke McClelland starts from square one, showing you how to place a graphic header and folio with page number on a newly created master, and how to apply your new master to existing pages you’ve already created in your document.

2. Setting up a master page for a magazine layout
In this excerpt from chapter one of Designing a Magazine Layout Hands-on Workshop, author Nigel French shows you how to create the master page elements that you’d want for the interior of a magazine layout. You’ll see how to consistently place the headers and footers, format them appropriately with rules and mirroring, and set up automatically updating page numbers.

3. Creating master pages strategically for a book or other long document
The next tutorial is from chapter one of our Creating Long Documents with InDesign course. When you’re working on a long document like a several-chapter book, author Mike Rankin encourages you to set up your master pages strategically by first creating a base master, then placing additional master pages with tweaks that might be desirable for different kinds of spreads like body copy and chapter openers upon that base. This strategic layering will give you greater flexibility as the project grows, and keep you from having to set up completely new masters as the project expands.

4. Overriding master page items
Of course, once in a while, you’ll find that a particular document page doesn’t work quite right with all of your master page elements. Since the role of master pages is to hold those repeating objects in place, you can’t move, delete, or even select master page items on a regular page. In this excerpt from chapter four of InDesign CS6 Essential Training, author David Blatner explains how to override a master page with the handy Command+Shift+click shortcut (Ctrl+Shift+click in Windows), which frees an object from its master and assigns it directly to the document page. At that point, with the object assigned directly to the document, you can edit or delete it as you choose. If you change your mind and want it back, David shows you how to restore master page items as well.

5. Making sure master page items aren’t covered by document objects
Finally, in episode number 39 from the InDesign Secrets series (Moving master page items to the top layer for visibility), David Blatner demonstrates how placing your master page items on the top layer of your document ensures that they aren’t covered up by the occasional graphic or text frame on a running page. If you’ve ever experienced the mysterious missing master item, then this advice is for you.

For features like master pages in InDesign that don’t quite warrant an entire course on their own, it’s nice to be able to round up this collection of useful tutorials with different information, approaches, and bonus tips. With the depth and breadth of the library, we can probably create dozens of other “mini-courses” by compiling excerpts from different courses. Are there any software feature that you’d like us to provide this kind of round-up for? Let us know in the comments!

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15 Responses to “This week’s featured five: Using InDesign master pages”

  1. I love this idea. I shared this on Facebook where I have often touted my love for all things I shared this link in particular as an illustration of one of the things I’ve mentioned there — ie, my enjoyment of the variety of instructors and their styles for the various courses. It would be hard for me to say which instuctor is my favorite because I like different ones for different reasons — and some of those reasons are in direct contrast with others, eg, I like some for the simplicity and overview they provide while I like others for the complexity and in-depth learning, some for their lighthearted banter and others for their serious straightforward “here’s how you do it” instruction.

    In any case, since you ask above, an example of this type of “collection of useful tutorials” on a particular subject, there is one I would like to see (and perhaps it is covered adequately in a single course somewhere, and if so, maybe someone can point it out ot me).

    I’ve done several of the courses on Adobe Illustrtor (I still use CS4), but I still feel a bit uncertain and uncomfortable distinguishing exactly where and when the various functions and purposes of the different kinds of “selection” identifiers in the layers panel come into play. I’m talking about highlighting an entire layer row vs the circle that can be “meatballed” vs the square to the right of the circle (not sure if I’ve forgotten any others). I know SOMETHING for each of them, but I feel like I don’t yet have them all fit together neatly in my mind — I often have to experiment to see which “click” does what I’m looking for.

    Anyway, if there were a collection of videos talking just about that area, I would certainly view it (and again, perhaps there is already a good overview in a single course? If so, I’d be happy to view that portion if I can be pointed in that direction)

    • Thanks, @Stanley for the encouragement. I love your take on the variety of voices in our library, and totally agree that it’s part of the rich learning experience. And I’m taking your Illustrator selection idea to heart. Off the top of my head, I’d recommend Mordy Golding’s Illustrator Insider Training: Rethinking the Essentials for any moment where you have that “I know it but I don’t know it as well as I’d like” feeling. (I get that feeling often in Illustrator myself.) Check out Chapter 5, “Taking Control with Layers.” Meanwhile, I’m scheduling research on an Illustrator All-Star mini-course at your suggestion. Thank you!

  2. Jim says:

    This post is woгth eveгуone’s attention. Where can I find out more?

  3. Dorothy Hoskins says:

    What about the impact of epub production on master page design – items on master pages or layers are not exported in epub output, are they? So does that requires some new thinking on what to put on master pages and layers?

    • Hi, @Dorothy. My initial thought was “well, anything you want to produce quickly can be exploited in a master page, but then you have to consider output and the final format destiny.” That being an unsuitably vague to answer your question, I consulted one of our InDesign Masters about this master page question, David Blatner. Here’s his response:

      “True, but in the vast majority of cases, you don’t want master page objects in your EPUB file. You certainly don’t want page numbers, footers, background images, and the like. But if for some reason you did want one, you would need to override it (command-shift-click it) to make it a page item.”

      Great question, and David’s partner in our InDesign Secrets techniques, Anne-Marie Concepcion has a collection of InDesign to EPUB courses, one for every version of InDesign since CS4. Here’s the latest (CS6):

      Thanks for your timely, relevant feedback!

  4. S says:


    A great selection of tutorials on master pages, but I still havent found what I’m looking for. I dont understand the entire list of Masters, e.g. A-Master, B-Master, and so on. Why do we need more than one? And why do we need more than one in one document? When would we use them all? So far all I’ve gleaned is that master pages help with repetitive elements like page numbers, headings, and such, but really, beyond that I cant understand when you would use a Master, A or B or any other. Please help.

    • Hi, S.

      Here’s an example from my own experience in the book publishing world about why you might want more than one Master Page in InDesign. Different repeating types of pages might require different repeating elements. For example, a Chapter Opener page might need the page number taken off, a placement box for the Chapter Title and a graphic frame placeholder for some kind of opening image. Meanwhile, a running page would have all the standard repeating elements like footers, folio, and body text frame. You might also have a Sidebar page that had a full bleed background, no folio, and a special icon for the sidebar built-in.

      Note that the A, B, etc. are just InDesign’s default names for Masters. You can right-click any Master in the Pages panel and choose “Master Options for [page name].” You’ll get a dialog box that lets you change both the name and the prefix. So I might name my Sidebar master “Sidebar” and set it’s prefix as SB so I can quickly see where it’s applied in my book pages.

      For short documents, you may only need one as you imply.

      Thanks for asking!

  5. S says:

    Oh one more thing: When we create a master page, do we have to save the file as a .indt or does it not matter if its a .indd file instead? And if we save it as a .indt, then how does it apply to our document? E.g. if I am creating a magazine, and I start off by creating a master page template and save it as a template, then how do i apply that to any of the monthly issues that I subsequently create? Since they are two separate files…?

    • No, you don’t need to save the file as a template (.indt) to keep your Master. (In a sense, Masters are little built in templates within your document.) As far as I know, the .indt format simply means that whenever you open it, it will essentially automatically make a copy of itself and force you to give it a title.

      Note that you can import Master pages from another document. From the Pages flyout menu, choose Master Pages > Load Master Page. Then you are given a window where you can navigate to the file that has the Master you want to reuse and import it into your new document.

      Thanks for the great questions,

  6. Noelle says:

    H there, have searched everywhere and can’t find the answer to my question.

    I have Master-A and Master-B pages. It’s a large document and I need to apply Master-A and Master-B to the same page in some instances but I don’t seem to be allowed?

    Page 2-9 = Master-A
    Page 10-12 = Master-B
    Page 13-16 = Master A & B

    Does this make sense?

    When I apply the second Master it overrides the first. Frustrating.


    • Kathy says:

      I’m guessing you would need to create a third master C, based on A and copy the elements from Master B. You could probably do a paste in place to retain position.

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  8. Michiel says:


    I’m wondering, isn’t there a smart way to manage different first pages with Masters (using Indesign CS6)?
    Since I usually need a different 1st page, I searched the web – but didn’t find any satisfying answer until now. This is strange though, I suppose most users regularly use different first pages… Simply a rule to automatically apply Master A to the 1st page, Master B to the following ones.
    In my case, I want to use this first of all for creating a digital stationery (with a full header for the 1st page – and page nbrs. + smaller header for the following pages – the headers are only available as PDF in my case, this was designed by another graphic designer…).

    Tips would be greatly appreciated :-)

    Cheers, Michiel

  9. James says:


    Is it possible to assign a master page based on the documents page number (either odd or even) in a book, we use the book feature to create catalogues and each page is a separate indesign file, so if a page is removed it would be nice if the master pages changed from left to right or vice versa for each indesign file in the book.

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